Live From the Depressing, Angry, Uplifting (Take Your Pick) DNC in Philly

Media Guy Simon Dumenco Reports From the First Night of the Democratic National Convention

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First Lady Michelle Obama greets the crowd ahead of her speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
First Lady Michelle Obama greets the crowd ahead of her speech on the first night of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.  Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Unlike the Republican National Convention, which branded each of the four nights of its Trumpapalooza in Cleveland last week -- e.g., Make America Safe Again Night and Make America Work Again Night -- the Democratic National Convention is keeping things loose. Still, sitting in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center yesterday, I couldn't help but try to figure out the through line of the convention's first night. My attempts varied widely as the evening wore on:

• Divided Party Night

As I made way through the arena's security tent, I heard pro-Bernie Sanders protesters chanting "Hell no, DNC! We won't vote for Hillary!" just beyond a nearby gate. I've been seeing lots of folks wearing Bernie T-shirts around town, and there were even more on the grounds of the Wells Fargo Center -- and now I had an anti-Hillary Clinton chant stuck my head.

This is not how Hillary's coronation was supposed to go down. Meanwhile, literal storm clouds curled over downtown Philly's skyline to the north (the Wells Fargo Center is in South Philly). And then later, inside the arena, my phone vibrated to a jarringly unfamiliar tempo in my pocket. On my screen was an emergency alert from the National Weather Service: "Flash Flood Warning this area until 11:15 P.M. EDT. Avoid flood areas. Check local media." Symbolism!

• Depressing Night

To demonstrate that Hillary Clinton cares deeply about you and me, a steady stream of speakers took to the stage to testify about how they met with Hillary and she convinced them that, you know, she cares deeply about their specific issues. Some of these speakers got their own video intros, so that we could see empathetic human candidate Hillary Clinton interacting with fellow humans who struggle with everything from substance abuse to fear of family members getting deported. It was all almost enough to make me forget that last year Hillary Clinton admitted that she was, in fact, constructed in a garage in Palo Alto (see: "Hillary Clinton: 'I'm Really Not Even a Human Being'").

It was very Oprah and more than a bit depressing -- but things started to look up after Demi Lovato, who took to the stage to talk about her own struggle with mental illness (bipolar disorder), incongruously broke into song.

So you say I'm complicated
That I must be outta my mind
But you've had me underrated
Rated, rated

What's wrong with being, what's wrong with being
What's wrong with being confident?
What's wrong with being, what's wrong with being
What's wrong with being confident?

Catchy tune -- it's called "Confident" -- but sadly it didn't entirely supplant "Hell no, DNC! We won't vote for Hillary!" from my brain.

• 'Saturday Night Live' Reunion Night

Old "Saturday Night Live" writers/performers Sarah Silverman (of the 1993-1994 season) and Sen. Al Franken (1975-1980, 1985-1995) came out together to banter about party unity (Bernie supporter Sarah has joined Al on the Hillary train, saying "To the Bernie-or-Bust people: You're being ridiculous") -- and, more importantly, to introduce 14-time "SNL" host/musical guest Paul Simon, who, of course, sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

And then, a little later, I literally bumped into "SNL" cast member Michael Che (sorry about the elbow, Che). The hallways of the Wells Fargo Center were ridiculously jam-packed, and Che and his "Weekend Update" cohost Colin Jost were rapidly weaving through the crowd with a camera crew; I followed them for awhile, but then they headed outside and raced off somewhere on a golf-cart-like official arena vehicle. (Che and Jost are shooting at the DNC for a special "Weekend Update"-style segment for MSNBC since their main gig is on summer break.)

• Democratic All-Stars Night

So it was Sen. Elizabeth Warren Night!

No, wait, Corey Booker Night!

No, I'm sorry, wait, First Lady Michelle Obama Night!

Oh, hold on -- Bernie Sanders Night! (He got the most thunderous applause of the evening.)

Actually, sorry, I take it back -- Bernie was solid, and did his unite-the-party duty, but Michelle Obama... well, there's a reason why #MichelleObama2020 started exploding in my Twitter timeline last night.

Speaking of Twitter -- and American priorities at this historic moment in our nation's history...

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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